Clean up, already!
That’s the directive being given by a tony Upper East Side co-op — where a one-bedroom unit sells for nearly $1 million — to an elderly owner.
The board at 31 E. 72nd St. is suing 86-year-old Joan Disse to force her to clean her apartment. A state Supreme Court lawsuit filed against her late last month alleges hoarding, a rodent infestation and a water leak that damaged the ceiling.
The apartment is “probably really messy,” Disse told The Post, “but I am not a hoarder.”
Disse has owned the one-bedroom since 1965, but hasn’t been living there for “a while,” according to court documents. The documents also include a “friendly hand-written note by the Board’s president,” who is also her neighbor on the floor, “inquiring if the Defendant needed assistance to remedy the situations at issue in this lawsuit.”
The note says the ceiling has “extensive damage from leaks,” and the unit is “in a very unsanitary and unhygienic state. Sooner or later, there will most likely be an intervention by the fire department, which has gotten more intensive in its enforcement measures over recent years.”
The board president, Guy “Clay” Maitland, declined to comment, and the co-op’s lawyer, Deborah Koplovitz, did not return messages.
The note went unanswered by Disse last summer, the lawsuit says. It claims that Disse, who has “apparently left the Apartment vacant for many years,” is required to maintain the interior in good repair,” but is instead “keeping it as a quasi-storage facility.”
A letter from the co-op’s lawyer to Disse says that the super, “whom you have asked in the past to enter the Apartment to check on its condition,” reports that “the ceiling has fallen down” and “there has been an over-accumulation of personal items in the apartment.”
The board wants to send its own crew to clean up if Disse won’t — and is also seeking access for quarterly inspections.
Disse, reached by phone in St. Louis, said she doesn’t remember receiving a note from her neighbor. She said the mess stems largely from empty cardboard boxes, mail and catalogs that the building staff piled inside. “Think of all the catalogs you get in a week,” she said.
Though the lawsuit claims there is a rodent infestation, it provides no evidence. Disse said she has never seen a rodent in her apartment, though she has seen them in the past while waiting for the subway.
Pictures taken by Maitland and filed in court show the ceiling is flaking. Disse insists that any leaks causing peeling paint came from plumbing work upstairs. “I can’t repair it and I didn’t do it,” she said.
Department of Buildings records show permits for extensive work on the floor above, the penthouse floor. One permit, filed seven years ago and valid for more than four years, allowed for major renovations, including the removal of interior partitions and new roof framing, HVAC, plumbing, electrical fixtures and lighting.
Another permit, also filed seven years ago and valid for two years, was granted to a master plumber.
In the 15-story building, where most floors contain three units, a one-bedroom is for sale asking $980,000, with monthly maintenance of around $900.
Apartments in the biggest line are much grander, with two bedrooms plus an office, a dining room, a staff room and a gallery, according to the floor plan. Those sell for upwards of $5 million.
The building’s ground-level retail includes a high-end jewelry boutique and a shoe store fronting on Madison Avenue, and two art galleries.
A building’s super or staff, even if they have keys, cannot enter and clean up without the owner’s permission unless there’s an emergency, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a real-estate lawyer not connected to the case.
Disse said she has kept up with maintenance payments and assessments, but has not lived full-time in New York for at least a dozen years, having returned to her native St. Louis to care for her elderly stepfather and mother, both now deceased. Her mother died in 2010 at age 97.
After that, she said, “I would go to New York for a day or two and that would be all. A day in New York would make you really happy if you live in the Midwest.”
More recently, the COVID shutdown prevented her from returning to clean up, she said. Then she suffered myocarditis from the vaccine. “My legs were bright red and I could hardly breathe,” she said. “It sure made a mess of my life.”
Disse had a jetsetting, glamorous past, when she traveled the world as a stewardess for Pan Am and later for Delta.
In 1967, the Pan Am Clipper newspaper mentioned her as one of the crew members greeted and blessed by Pope Paul VI as a Boeing 707 flew him between Rome and Turkey. The pontiff also praised the “delicious” food on board.
“It was the most wonderful job in the world, and I collected antiques and art,” Disse said. “I fell into it by accident and it was one of the best things that ever happened.”
Disse said she is doing her best to fix the messy-apartment problem.
“My lawyer spoke to their lawyer and said, ‘Joan, I think we can resolve this.’ My apartment is not big but it’s mine and I love it. I hope I’m around for a few more years to enjoy it. The last few years of my life have not been enjoyable.”
When last reached, Disse said she plans to fly to New York soon. “I am going to get my scrubbing gear out and clean that place up,” she said.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.